Industry Insight: Be credibly green

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Too long many have talked the talk without properly walking the walk, yet all the evidence from environmental reporting and climate change points to significant cost savings both to the individual, the business and the wider society. Writes Jon Proctor, co-founder & technical director, Green Tourism Certification Programme

Over the last 10 years we have seen the climate debate move from one of recognition of the problem to a growing realisation that human society will need to adapt to retain any semblance of our present luxurious lifestyles.

Are we adapting? And are we adapting quickly enough? Sadly not at this point, and one of the main reasons in the tourism industry is ‘Greenwash’. This is where false claims are made and wording is used out of context in order to help sell a product or service.

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Historically words such as ‘natural’, ‘recyclable’ and now other words such as ‘sustainable’ and ‘carbon neutral’ are used to try to extol the virtues of some products or services. These often give a false reading about how ‘green’ a product or service actually is.

Sustainability is more a state of mind than a scientific discipline. Everyone thinks they are being relatively sustainable even if their concept is more economically rather than ecologically driven. The science behind sustainability is mired with statistical processes and complicated cradles for calculations and methodologies.

Sustainability is in essence about taking enough but no more and this goes against almost all the economic drivers (and measures of value) we use.

So what’s the solution?
We think its about making things simple (and genuine) based upon proven fundamentals and always being vigilant about claims or processes which ‘jump on the band wagon’ in order to gain market share.

Over the last 10 years at Green Tourism, we have seen other certifications establish themselves around Bronze Silver and Gold levels some of them are good (although not as good as Green Tourism, I would hasten to add!) others are sadly misdirected.

Probably one of the most annoying developments is the use of ‘self assessment’. This is a misuse of the term assessment and should really be ‘self-declaration’ or something similar. Getting something assessed is intrinsically about having another set of eyes look over your work. We all rely on assessments at school but no-one would ever consider pupils self assessing themselves for their exams or coursework. What makes our industries any less important?

Green Tourism does a site inspection (audit) every 2 years on 100% of our properties. This is the only way to police a single and especially a multi-tiered certification programme (Bronze, Silver, and Gold). We are continuously developing and raising standards, in fact, this autumn we are now just about to roll out version 5 of our programme.

So how does Green Tourism prove it is a strong and very genuine programme?
One area we have been working on is in carbon dioxide emissions. The UK is very good at carbon reporting and has some great statistics on the average CO2 per kWh for electricity as well as other fuels, even water supply and treatment. We use these figures in a carbon calculator to establish kWh/m2 and CO2 per overnight, per visitor, per delegate and per pitch. Along with version 5 of our criteria we are also rolling out version 1 of our benchmarking tool. It is based upon CIBSE (Chartered Institute of Building Services Engineers) standards and over 15 years of data collected by Green Tourism on the performance of different property types. Very necessary for us at Green Tourism, as we certify properties from luxurious hotels like the Savoy through to budget and small serviced accommodation self catering properties, youth hostels, camp sites and conference centres – all the way to tiny B&Bs.

From this we establish a set of ready reckoners which will allow a customer to calculate the carbon associated with their conference overnights, travel and conference venue. We will also have a travel calculator for tourists.

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Digitalisation
The social revolution which underscores the development of the internet has many positives but also some significant challenges. More than ever before, in this digital age, messages and assumptions gain enormous, widespread distribution, reputations are created in really short periods of time and can be destroyed by opinion in minutes whilst billions watch, and have opinions.

Clearly, real trust is a fundamental and desperately-needed issue. It cannot be created by words alone. Potential clients should be able to make their purchasing decisions on factors that are honest, transparent and unsullied by Greenwashed ‘Weasel Words’.

This is why, at Green Tourism, we undertake the painstaking and thorough work of inspecting tourism properties and auditing their total range of green practices before we issue any certification. Moreover, we are so committed to helping our members to take advantage of green opportunities, we even use our vast professional experience to help and advise them on their journey to maximum economic, social, cultural and environmental sustainability. In effect we take the role of being their professional sustainable tourism partner.

It’s not all doom and gloom however I take great inspiration from the speed of communication and the growth of social media and the success of social campaigns. If we can unravel what is genuinely sustainable then we have the potential to make rapid and important changes to the benefit of a sustainable future.

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